In all the discussion of sex and consent — and there’s been a lot of it, and it’s not all recent, and unfortunately it doesn’t change all that much for all that the debate is pretty much constant — a recurring theme is the idea of somehow recording consent and negotiating it in an official context to avoid any confusion. A video back in 2004 mocked the idea, with a young couple about to get busy on their first date pausing to fill out a lengthy sexual consent form, with lawyers in attendance to iron out the details.
Now, a smartphone app is available to make that video a reality (minus the lawyers). Available for iPhone and Android, the Good2Go app encourages prospective sexual partners to assess consent — electronically — before embarking on their sexual adventures.
Here’s how it works: After deciding that you would like to have sex with someone, launch the Good2Go app (free on iTunes and Google Play), hand the phone off to your potential partner, and allow him or her to navigate the process to determine if he or she is ready and willing. “Are We Good2Go?” the first screen asks, prompting the partner to answer “No, Thanks,” “Yes, but … we need to talk,” or “I’m Good2Go.” If the partner chooses door No. 1, a black screen pops up that reads “Remember! No means No! Only Yes means Yes, BUT can be changed to NO at anytime!” If he or she opts instead to have a conversation before deciding—imagine, verbally communicating with someone with whom you may imminently engage in sexual intercourse—the app pauses to allow both parties to discuss.
If the partner—let’s assume for the purposes of this blog post, partner is a she—indicates that she is “Good2Go,” she’s sent to a second screen that asks if she is “Sober,” “Mildly Intoxicated,” “Intoxicated but Good2Go,” or “Pretty Wasted.” If she chooses “Pretty Wasted,” the app informs her that she “cannot consent” and she’s instructed to return the phone back to its owner (and presumably, not have sex under any circumstances, young lady). All other choices lead to a third screen, which asks the partner if she is an existing Good2Go user or a new one. If she’s a new user, she’s prompted to enter her phone number and a password, confirm that she is 18 years old, and press submit. (Minors are out of luck—the app is only for consenting adults.) Then, she’ll fill out a fourth prompt, which asks her to input a six-digit code that’s just been texted to her own cellphone to verify her identity with that app. (Previous users can just type in their phone number—which serves as their Good2Go username—and password.) Once that level is complete, she returns the phone to its owner, who can view a message explaining the terms of the partner’s consent. (For example, the “Partner is intoxicated but is Good2Go.”) Then, the instigator presses a button marked “Ok,” which reminds him again that yes can be changed to “NO at anytime!”
Then you get to have sex.
This is a bad idea.
The Good2Go FAQ says that the app was created to “facilitate communication between two consenting adults” and “provide the opportunity for two people to pause and reflect on what they really want to do.” It also notes that with the Good2Go process completed, “the Initiator can feel comfortable that his or her Partner has expressed willing consent,” which sounds like a great idea but really isn’t, necessarily, because feeling comfortable that your partner has expressed consent now is only helpful if you also reaffirm ongoing consent later, throughout the sexual encounter. And no amount of admonishment that “no means no” and “stop means stop” is going to convince a partner who just plain doesn’t want to pull out/climb off to do so when their partner withdraws consent for whatever reason.
There are just too many situations that can’t really be addressed by a yes-or-no, sober-to-wasted form.
I told him beforehand that I didn’t want to do [sexual act], but then he started doing it to me.
I said yes, but then she started getting too rough, and I couldn’t get her to stop.
The condom broke, and I told him to stop, but he said I didn’t insist on protection beforehand and he kept going.
I wanted it in the beginning, but then it started to feel wrong, and when I asked her to stop she said she already had my consent in her phone.
It’s great to emphasize the need to consent. The problem with this app is that it establishes consent as a black-and-white, unrescindable thing. Despite the pop-up box saying that no means no, and that yes can be changed to no at any time, the entire app is designed around the idea that recording a person’s sobriety level and approval is enough to head off questions of consent in the future.
Good2Go records the initial consent, but anything that changes during the course of the sexual encounter — the getting rough, the unconsented-to act, the broken condom — doesn’t have a screen in the app. When Good2Go records are subpoenaed for use in court, the fact that she initially consented is right there in digital black and white. The fact that, mid-coitus, she told him to stop and he didn’t? That’s still up for debate, and still subject to the classic “buyer’s remorse” argument that gets so many rape cases thrown out.
It’s there in the app creator’s hope “to reduce the number of assaults and ‘regretted encounters’ by improving communications” — quotation marks reinforcing the image of so many women accusing their partner of rape after feeling regretful about consensual sex. Does it happen? Sure. Is it wrong? Absolutely. Is an app designed exclusively to record initial consent just as likely to be used against rape victims as for them? Arguably. Consent is something that needs to be established at the beginning of every sexual encounter, and the concept of affirmative consent definitely needs more discussion and more visibility in the public eye. But an app that leaves ongoing consent out of the story beyond a final reminder screen to click through isn’t going to accomplish that. And for that reason, I say Good2Go is a NoGo.